Hoi An is without a shadow of a doubt my favourite town in Vietnam, where time seems to stand still. A town beautifully preserved over time and a Unesco Cultural Heritage.
Hoi An is a double-faced village.
During the day it appears quiet, a peaceful village where you can wander around on foot or by bicycle, through the alleys and the many different buildings of the old town.
Of this town, it was the flow of time to hit me at first glance: a slowness that punctuates the activities of daily life.
A simple life, made of repeated gestures with the rhythm and the safety of those who fulfill them without thinking about it. Of those who are also never distracted even from the gaze of tourists or the surrounding people.
Curiously walking and looking carefully, I met merchants sewing colored fabrics inside their small tailors; local artists painting in their workshops; the barber cleaning with a strange device the ears to an elderly man sitting in his doorless and windowless shop; sellers cutting fruits on the street; ladies working noodles by hand and others arranging the counters in the market.
I was enchanted by this poor and rich life at the same time: poor of artifices but rich of the preciousness of time and not of the frenzy of doing.
I cycled from my stay to the heart of Hoi An in just a couple of minutes.
I loved cycling through the different little streets but then I felt the necessity to walk, to stroll around more slowly, according to the rhythm this city was asking me to use.
Before crossing the bridge connecting the new to the old town, right inside the bridge I bought a ticket for 120,000 dong – about €5 – with whom it’s possible to pick 5 temples to visit in town and to see a short Vietnamese dance show.
It doesn’t take much time to visit the various temples in the old town but it’s really nice to spend a whole day without rush, enjoying the mix between the typical Vietnamese atmosphere and the strong Chinese influence.
In Hoi An it’s really easy to steal local people’s moments of life, entering into their homes (with the ticket you can even get in some private houses!) and enjoying the way they live and work.
But the gift that I carry inside from this place is definitely the memory of time passing slowly through the little shops with colourful handmade lanterns (which have become an icon of the town) and the cafes where to eat grilled fish or classic Pho.
One thing that really amazed me is to see that textile is a great resource for Vietnam and this is particularly evident in this town.
It’s nice to step in the many tailor shops and get lost while discovering the Vietnamese fashion (very westernized and elegant) and comparing beautiful types of fabric.
I also got fascinated by many craft shops that work with wood and by some local artists painting everyday life scenes and Vietnamese women.
Containing the urge to buy everything was really hard!
The main street of the old town starts from a Chinese bridge and is parallel to that one along the river. This is the ideal place for a break, where you can taste delicious fruit smoothies and watch the world go by in front of your eyes.
I suggest you to stop at a cozy little place (in photo below) to enjoy delicious smoothies.
I don’t remember the name but you’ll find it on the main street and it is easy to recognize! In case you wish to get back in touch with reality it is also one of the few places where you can find wi-fi.
In the evening, suddenly it changes completely colouring itself with lights, bustling with people and offering a lovely atmosphere.
The access to the heart of the town is through a Chinese-style bridge, reminiscent of the history and the essence of Indochina.
Inside the Hoi An Handicraft Workshop I attended a show where a theatre crew performs traditional dances and songs twice a day (the precise time will be given when you buy the ticket).
I suggest you to go there in advance if your want to find a place where to sit.
This is definitely a tourist attraction but also an opportunity to see the style of the ancient Vietnamese clothing.
But all this is only one side of Hoi An.
The other side shows in the evening, suddenly, when this town is transformed and is coloured of lights, is crowded with people and is dressed in a lovely atmosphere.
Although Hoi An is spectacular in the morning, the best side of this city is undoubtedly seen in the evening. Hoi An changes its appearance and becomes magical and enchanting.
Streets and restaurants turn their lanterns on and the bridge that gives access to the town changes colour and shade on a regular basis for a stunning view.
Children and elderly women, visibly timeworn but with their eyes still young and sparkling, approach passers-by holding out coloured paper lanterns in exchange for $1, inviting visitors to make a wish before letting them float into the river.
And that’s what I did.
An old lady with young eyes helped me laying down with a stick my lantern into the river and invited me with a smile to let it go.
It’s like this that every evening the river fills up, slowly, with lanterns.
Despite the darkness, women on small wooden boats invite you to take a tour on the river to see the lights floating by.
Hoi An is magic.
It’s a sublime and inexplicable feeling that left me in this town.
It has the power to slow down the flow of time and bring you back to a bygone era, leaving a burning emotion that will float inside you, like those shining lanterns on the river.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE
Hoi An is a town that needs to be lived more than visited. That’s why I suggest you to spend an entire day there, from the early morning to the late night.
I also recommend you to book your stay close to the old town so you can easily bike around.
I stayed at Tigon Hoi An Homestay: after having my omelette for breakfast, I rented a bike just there. In a few minutes, after passing by a cute Chinese-style villa, I reached Hoi An ancient town.